Rev. Thomas May’s letter to his son
The Rev. Thomas May succeeded his father as Leigh’s Vicar in 1830 and continued in that role until for 46 years. He died aged 90 in February 1888. He had nine children and some records indicate that relations were not always easy between father and children. His second son, Henry, left home in 1847, when he was seventeen, to join the Merchant Navy. Merchant Navy records say that he had brown hair, a fair complexion, grey eyes and a mole on the back of his neck. His height is given as “still growing”. His first ship was the SS Marlborough where he was a midshipman: between 1853 and 1857 he was on the SS Golden Fleece which on occasion went to Scutari at the time of the Crimean War. Although he was not in the Army or Royal Navy, his relations in England were fearful that he might fall ill. Florence Nightingale’s much publicized hospital was there after all, where cholera was rife. His aunt wrote to him to tell him not to go “poking your nose into dangers where your duty does not call you”. Other letters to him indicate that he travelled widely round the world before he retired – safely – as a 2nd Officer in the mid or late 1860s. He marred the daughter of a Norfolk vicar and the family move to Perth where he was Deputy Governor of Perth General prison – later Governor.
The Historical Society archive has a number of letters to Henry from various family members but all from the time when Henry was at sea. There is one, particularly long letter from Thomas May to his son which was sent three months after Henry left Leigh. At the start Thomas says it would be a letter from the whole family but he ends up saying his wife – Henry’s mother – complains that he has written too much “but I hope there is a fair proportion of weighty matters . . . and I have mended my pen several times”.
Extracts from Rev. Thomas May’s letter to his son Henry, dated 17 September 1849.
My Dear Boy
All who can use a pen would like to write to Henry across the Atlantic but we must be economic in our arrangements for the correspondence. I claim the 1st privilege. My name is “Pater” and shall and proceed forthwith to exercise it. Confineing myself to this bit of paper and endeavor to write short. You commenced a good practice in writing to us every opportunity before you quitted the Bristol channel, and your 3 notes, dated from the Marlboro, were very welcome and read with great attention. Pray continue to observe this good rule, it will provoke energy on the part of your correspondants in dear old England. If I mistake not you have often thought of Leigh Vicarage and its inmates, & we have not been unmindful of you. You have come before me especially at the hour of prayer, for I have often a painful sense of the dangers to which you are exposed, “ghostly & bodily”, & a distrust of your meeting with judicious councillors in seasons of difficulties. Still I hope the advice which you received under the paternal roof will not be forgotten, and that God Almighty will protect you from harm. . . . You may suppose we heard the report of cholera having broken out in the Marlboro before she left Portsmouth. . . . It was sufficiently alarming. We have since seen in the Newspapers notices of fearful mortality from the “pestilence that walketh in darkness”, in several vessels that have gone to America. The scourge has cut down thousands in England . . . . & I trust it will please the Almighty to withdraw his chastening hand……..
How do you like the rough work? Well enough I hope to persevere till you obtain for yourself a better berth for which you are training. . . . Qualify yourself by application to study and readiness to perform your offices and you may not remain long in the lowest ranks of those charged with Authority. . . .
Please God you live to receive this, it will find you at the end of your voyage outwards . . . at Calcutta a new scene will open upon you and when liberty is granted you to be absent from your vessel; you will have to act for yourself, with little experience of the wiles of men and women for gain and seduction. “My son; if sinners entice thee, consent thou not”, wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? Even by ruling himself after thy word. Do not be ashamed of being virtuous. Let the fear of the Lord be your defence in the hour of temptation”. . . . ask your own conscience, there is none more true to you than it and till it is warped by the blanishments of pleasure, or the thirst for gain, it will upbraid your dec…. from the paths of piety, purity and peace. . . . Now as regards your finances I have made up accounts and the result was that I paid £30 into your account with the Tonbridge Savings Bank, this sum being due to you . .. My anxiety that you should not have much money in your purse when you went on board, and yet be supplied with all you wanted at Portsmouth caused me to lose my train and I was able to get no further than Brighton the night we parted. . . . It would be very entertaining to us if you kept a journal of your proceedings and your observations on men and manners. I have found this very useful . . . As regards yourself, it might encourage habits of thoughtfulness .. . .
Your Affectionate Father, Thomas May
Parish Magazine Articles: Jan/Feb 2015: by Joyce Field
Full version of the above letter and other letters of the May family are in the archives and also under MAY FAMILY.